While his State Department equivocated about the Keystone XL pipeline at home, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Indonesia to issue a call to arms on climate change. In a speech last week to Indonesian students, civic leaders and government officials, Secretary Kerry called climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
While such a bold declaration from the highest levels of U.S. government is undoubtedly good news, the deployment of this all-too-familiar vocabulary is certain to come with a cost.
Climate change is not a “weapon” of mass destruction. The earth is not assembling an arsenal with which to attack us. Climate change is not some perverted expression of the wrath of a higher power toward the world’s most vulnerable.
If anything, the violence being perpetrated is that of the corporate imperative to grow against the human imperative to live. It is violence perpetrated by the Global North against the Global South. It is violence of the industrial processes that supply the coal, oil, and gas we need to support our addiction to consumption, against the living beings from whose land these fuels are extracted.
The crisis created by this violence is reaching a stage where it no longer has borders, and we cannot fix it by building walls. We cannot expect to mitigate climate change anywhere by accelerating uneven scarcity that will fuel even more conflict. We cannot disown the weapons we have created by positioning the planet as our adversary — though, as we now know, Secretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper did exactly that at a 2007 NSA conference, when he said, “Increasingly the environment is becoming an adversary for us. And I believe that the capabilities and assets of the Intelligence Community are going to be brought to bear increasingly in assessing the environment as an adversary.”
This is the wrong call to arms. If the planet is our adversary, we are going to lose.
It bears repeating: It is good news that the highest levels of U.S. government are becoming increasingly more seriousness about climate change. It remains to be seen if Secretary Kerry and President Obama will bring their considerable resources to bear in any sort of constructive or restorative manner. History tells us that the rhetoric used to describe a struggle can very often be used to redefine the terms of a conflict, place blame, and justify future expressions of imperialism and military might.
Climate change is not a weapon of mass destruction. It is a symptom of disease.
The comorbid diseases of U.S.-led corporate capitalism, militarism, consumerism, racism and xenophobia are creating this most threatening of symptoms. Traveling halfway around the world — to warn people who know far more than we do about a disease that we ourselves were complicit in creating and failing to treat — does not change that.
Even acknowledging these obvious ecological symptoms has proved ludicrously difficult, and there is no miracle drug, either to mitigate the effects of climate change or to treat its root causes. But in the search for tools to stop the bleeding and begin to heal, one thing is utterly clear: These ailments will never be their own cure. If the disease is violence in its many forms, the cure is not a war — despite the fact that it is something this country seems to excel at. We cannot get lost in the rhetoric of WMDs. We’ve been here before.
A militarized response to the current crisis will not just fail; it promises to accelerate the deleterious effects of a changing climate. All in the name of protecting us from a vengeful planet.
We need to change the terms of the struggle. We need to talk about mitigation and adaptation, and the good jobs to be found in restoring the health of our existing energy infrastructure instead of increasing our capacity to heat up the planet and destroy communities. We need to talk about wind, solar and geothermal energy. Most of all, we need to talk about stopping the bleeding and beginning to heal with fierce, nonviolent civil resistance.
Let’s stop talking about weapons and start talking about tools.